Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What I Know About Baseball

I had an email exchange with a co-worker today about Aussie Rules football. I have worked with him for over 5 years and so it wasn't a surprise when he replied to one of my jargon-filled emails "I even understood some of that".

He then asked me if I would like to learn about baseball. I replied with a list of all I know about the great American game:
  1. Create a World Series competition and only invite North America.
  2. Wear tight-fitting, striped, knee-length pants.
  3. Eat peanuts and crackerjacks.
  4. Sing the American anthem.
  5. Cover yourself with padding, wear a vision-obscuring helmet, and signal rudely to the pitcher.
  6. Shout "Strike One!", "Ball!" and "Safe!" at random moments during the game.
  7. In a gravelly voice, saliva spitting from your mouth, yell the words "you're" and "out" so that it sounds like "YEROUT!" while pointing to any player.
  8. Wear one oversized glove.
  9. Chew gum, spit generously and swear at the umpires.
  10. Hit a round ball with a round bat (something like a caveman's club).
  11. Run around a diamond that covers only a small portion of the entire playing field.
  12. Steal bases, but leave them behind afterwards.
  13. Run home, which is the place you started from.

Not bad for an ex-pat Aussie, eh?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Placebo Buttons

A placebo button is a button that, when pushed, does nothing other than make the button pusher feel like he has effected change.

A famous example is the "close door" button in an elevator. Does pushing it actually close the doors, or do the doors close according to their programmed cycle, anyway? Certainly, pushing the button makes you feel like you have done something, but whether you actually have or not can only be determined by experimentation.

The Museum of Hoaxes blog busts the myth that all cross-walk buttons are placebos. Some are, some aren't, some never were but are now.

This whole thing got me thinking: What other things do we do that are really just placebos, dummy deeds we do to make ourselves feel in control? Just how much of our lives is rigged? Are we all being manipulated? Is there some great super-governmental force out there giving us the illusion that our opinions count?

Here's a few things that might really be placebos:

  • Half the operations we do in MS Windows:
    Ever tried to force a "hanging" program to close using the task manager?

  • Filing papers at any government office:
    It's a fun exercise, but do they do whatever they want, despite your requests?

  • Voting in an election:
    Aren't they all rigged?

  • Paying taxes:
    You pay a certain amount of tax. Your tax money doesn't go to schools and hospitals. Someone else's does. Your money goes to fitting that new executive bathroom in some fancy government building somewhere.

  • Ordering a steak at a restaurant:
    You order rare, it comes out well-done, but you felt decisive and powerful telling the waitress exactly how you would like it.
So how much control do we have over our own decisions, and do they mean anything? To test this theory, I've spent the last month making random choices, spur-of-the-moment, sometimes illogical decisions about lots of different things. The idea was to see whether any decision I made would ultimately lead me to the same end, proving the theory that everything is placebo and your choices don't matter, or whether my decisions actually had an effect on things.

Without going into too many details, Hugo Chavez is still in power. I ate raw dog meat in a Chinese restaurant. I filed the requisite forms and am now receiving financial assistance from Aboriginal Business Canada. I know the names of prison guards in four different African countries. I owe money to an Atlantic City loan shark. I don't have any clothes aside from those I'm wearing, but I do have all of my fingers, some of which are in an ice-pack in my rucksack.